Abu Ghraib problems 'systemic'

Systemic problems existed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where US troops abused Iraqi prisoners, the head of the US Central Command has admitted.

    General John Abizaid accepts responsibility for the abuses

    General John Abizaid, who is responsible for military

    operations in Iraq, told the Senate Armed

    Services Committee on Wednesday: "

    From evidence already gathered, we believe that systemic

    problems existed at the prison and may have contributed to

    events there."

    Abizaid told the committee he took personal responsibility

    but said the abuse would not deflect US forces from their

    task in Iraq.

    He added: "We will follow the trail of evidence

    wherever it leads. We will continue to correct systemic

    problems. We will hold people accountable and, in accordance

    with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, we will take

    appropriate action."

    Also testifying were Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez,

    commander of ground forces in Iraq, and Major General Geoffrey

    Miller, deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq.

    Red Cross warnings

    Committee Chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican, said

    it was time for US top military leaders to face American and

    world public opinion.

    The Abu Ghraib pictures have
    outraged Iraqis 

    US Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said he wanted

    to know about warnings from the International Committee of the

    Red Cross that Iraqi prisoners were being abused that surfaced

    as early as May 2003, months before the US military launched

    its first investigation.

    The hearing happenned on the same day as a US special court-martial

     sentenced Specialist Jeremy

    Sivits to one year in prison and ordered

    him discharged from the army for bad conduct over the abuse of

    Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

    Sivits, 24, pleaded guilty and promised to testify against

    some of the six other soldiers indicted. He also confessed to

    pushing a prisoner into the now infamous picture of a pile of

    naked Iraqis.

    Warner has said he wants to talk with other officials,

    including the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and

    Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith and wants to see

    documents and legal reviews of "harsh approaches" on detainee

    interrogations.

    Rumsfeld allegations

    However, the Pentagon is disputing a report

    that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners grew out of a secret plan

    approved by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to toughen

    interrogation methods to fight a growing insurgency.

    "

    From evidence already gathered, we believe that systemic

    problems existed at the prison and may have contributed to

    events there"

    General John Abizaid,
    Commander of military operations in Iraq

    "I think this issue needs to be resolved because it

    directly impacts American support for our effort in winning

    this war, and that support is clearly eroded since this thing

    broke," Senator

    John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said of the

    scandal of Iraqi detainees being abused and sexually humiliated

    .

    But House of Representatives Armed Services Committee

    Chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said he

    disagreed with Warner's plans to hold more hearings.

    "The Senate will do lots of great stand-up shots and they

    will go out and do stakeouts with the press and they will be

    able to adorn the talk shows for the next four, five days,"

    Hunter said.

    "I would hope that we can refocus now that we have spent

    this enormous amount of publicity on this prison thing. We have

    to refocus on this war."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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